Adams ousts Greg Russ as NYCHA boss following Jacob Riis arsenic scare

Mayor Eric Adams distributes water bottles at the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Jacob Riis Houses in Manhattan. Friday, Sept. 2, 2022.
Photo courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

A major shakeup is coming to the leadership structure of the city’s public housing authority.

Mayor Eric Adams’ office announced Thursday the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) current chair and CEO Greg Russ will step back as the authority’s chief executive, following an arsenic contamination scare at the Jacob Riis Houses on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Gregory Russ

Russ will stay on as chair, according to a release, as the roles of CEO and chair that have typically been held by one person are split into two separate jobs. The authority’s general counsel Lisa Bova-Hiatt will serve as interim chief executive until they find a permanent replacement.

“We cannot wait any longer to make transformational changes so NYCHA can provide safe, high-quality homes for New Yorkers,” Adams said. “I am determined to work with my partners in government to identify the right leaders and the right structure for NYCHA to deliver on our promises to public housing residents. I want to thank Lisa Bova-Hiatt for her dedicated service to our city and for stepping up at this critical time to put NYCHA on the right path.”

The news comes after a rough couple of weeks for the embattled public housing authority. Nearly two weeks ago, NYCHA and the mayor’s office told Jacob Riis residents their tap water had tested positive for arsenic and advised residents not to drink or cook with the water for nearly a week.

But late last week, the city reversed course, sharing that the lab who’s tests yielded the positive arsenic results – Environmental Monitoring and Technologies – retracted those results and released revised results that were negative for the toxic substance. A day later, Adams announced the water at Jacob Riis was safe to drink and cook with again, posting a video of himself and city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan drinking cups of water from the development’s taps.

Adams’ office says it wasn’t notified about the positive arsenic test until several days after NYCHA was aware of the results. During an unrelated press conference Monday, Adams said the delay in notifying his office was “unacceptable” and hinted at the leadership change announced Thursday.

“We were notified on Friday, they were notified on Monday, it’s unacceptable,” Adams told reporters. “And so we know there’s new leadership that’s about to take place at NYCHA and we’re looking at exactly what happened here.”

The mayor also said he was going to hold someone at the agency accountable for how the arsenic scare was handled. However, Adams spokesperson Charles Lutvak wouldn’t confirm or deny if Russ’ removal as CEO was such a punitive measure, when reached by PoliticsNY.

Even though he’s stepping aside as CEO, Russ said he remains committed to NYCHA and will help Bova-Hiatt transition into his old job.

“As I step back into the role of chair of NYCHA’s Board of Directors, I will remain a resource and partner to Lisa, the NYCHA team, NYCHA residents, and the city,” Russ said. “My commitment to NYCHA remains as strong as ever, and as we strengthen the authority and deliver the Public Housing Preservation Trust together, I feel confident in the future of NYCHA.”